On Friday, May 9, 2014, Charles Waldheim, FAAR, John E. Irving Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture, delivered a public lecture to The Arts Club of Chicago on the subject of his forthcoming book-length history of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport: Chicago O’Hare: a natural and cultural history.
In the second half of the twentieth century Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was the biggest and busiest facility of its kind in the world. Characterized by a seamless integration of transportation infrastructure and architectural expression, O’Hare quickly emerged as an international model for the jet-age airport. The design team led by Chicago architects C. F. Murphy Associates integrated innovative design strategies such as the movable jetway bridge, two-tiered entry way drive, linear unit terminal building, and central parking garage at O’Hare. Each of these strategies differed markedly from contemporaneous solutions developed for comparable jet-age airports. These design decisions came to shape the definitive typology of the modern international airport. The talk describes O’Hare in various contexts beginning with the history of Orchard Place, the farming village that would lend its name to O’Hare’s three-letter location identifier code ORD. Equally present are the airfield’s origins in civic boosterism and military expediency; politics and patronage in Chicago’s largest architectural commission; the spatial and organizational innovations in O’Hare’s design; and the airport’s role in the decentralization of the city.
Image credit: C.F. Murphy Assoc., Chicago O’Hare International Airport, telephone switching building, 1963. Hedrich Blessing photo, courtesy Chicago Historical Society, HB # 24822-B.